TECH TALK: 3GSM Mumbai: Looking Ahead

The mobile user growth in India from 2007-2010 is going to come primarily from rural India. The focus now for mobile operators is to increase their footprint across rural India, and offer even more affordable plans to the next 100 million users in 2007 and then another 250 million users in the following 3 years.

In urban India, one of the key issues being faced by operators is the lack of spectrum. Because of the high number of operators (seven in a city like Mumbai), there is limited spectrum available for all. This has resulted in service quality being impacted. 3G promises to solve this issue, but it all depends on how the government gives out the licences. A number of presentations dealt with the 3G issue and what the approach needs to be for India.

What struck me was that the operators did not seem that excited about 3G other than from the point of view of getting additional spectrum. Since many GSM operators already have launched 2.75G (EDGE), 3G will only be incremental in terms of the data speeds but will mean a huge new investment in technology. Until the conference, I was quite optimistic about the prospects of 3G. But now, I think it will be a while before we see 3G deployed nationally. My perception of 3G was that it would make possible the always-on mobile Internet, and thus facilitate the creation of a wide range of data services akin to what happened in Japan. Now, though, I feel that we are stuck with the current infrastructure for some time.

There was quite a bit of discussion about wireless broadband, especially WiMax. BSNL, among others, has planned huge rollouts, especially for rural India. This may bode well for increasing the reach of data services across India.

The last issue I want to take up is value-added services, but I will do that tomorrow. For now, here is a quick summary from the 3GSM Mumbai press release:

Stream A was dedicated to Strategy & Services, featuring a wide variety of senior speakers up to CEO level, all keen to offer insights around optimising profitability of mobile services in South Asian markets. Stream A also provided a forum for debating the business case around imminent 3G deployment. Umang Das, Managing Director of Spice Communications, discussed the potential of infrastructure sharing and while a lively panel discussion at the end of Day One focussed on widening access for rural communities in order to meet the Indian Governments target of connecting 500m users by 2010. Day Two saw discussions around the question of whether MVNOs can add value to the Indian market, with ValueFirst giving an illuminating case study of their recent SMS MVNO launch in the country.

Stream B focused on Technology Evolution, addressing a number of important issues including technological measures necessary to enable a smooth transition from 2G to 3G and beyond, and how competitive technologies such as WiMAX might complement and further extend the reach of existing networks. In a particularly well received presentation, Kunal Bajaj from BDA India also posed challenging questions around the availability of sufficient spectrum for the economically viable deployment of WiMAX and other broadband wireless access technologies.

Stream C, dedicated to Mobile Entertainment, featured energetic and lively debates on the likely consumer appetite for services such as Mobile TV, richer mobile games and mobile community applications. It was a case of standing room only in Stream C, an encouraging reflection of industry confidence in the services needed to boost ARPU and open whole new revenue streams.

Tomorrow: Value-Added Services


Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.